The Trump administration honored an 83-year-old Muslim cleric from Nigeria this week who saved hundreds of Christians in 2018 — when he hid them in his home and mosque during a terrorist attack.

The State Department honored Imam Abubakar Abdullahi at an awards ceremony on Wednesday for his actions on June 23, 2018, when “ethnic Fulani herdsmen, who are predominantly Muslim, launched coordinated attacks on 10 villages in Barkin Ladi, killing hundreds of ethnic Berom farmers, who are predominantly Christian.”

“As Imam Abdullahi was finishing midday prayers, he and his congregation heard gunshots and went outside to see members of the town’s Christian community fleeing,” the State Department added. “Instinctively, the Imam ushered 262 Christians into the mosque and his home next to the mosque. The Imam then went outside to confront the gunmen and he refused to allow them to enter, pleading with them to spare the Christians inside, even offering to sacrifice his life for theirs. Although the gunmen killed 84 people in Nghar village that day, Imam Abdullahi’s actions saved the lives of hundreds more.”

International Religious Freedom Ambassador Sam Brownback said at the event, “The imam gave refuge to his Christian neighbors, sheltering 262 Christians in his mosque and his home. … then stood outside the doors confronting the Muslim attackers, pleading with them to spare the lives of the Christians inside, even offering to exchange his own life for theirs.”

“His actions bear witness to true courage, true selflessness, and true brotherly love,” Brownback added.

In a tweet, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote: “Privileged to present five extraordinary #religiousfreedom advocates with the @StateDept’s first-ever #IRFAwards today. Their heroic efforts to build bridges & protect vulnerable religious minorities, often at their own personal risk, are an inspiration to us all.”

At the event, the State Department also honored:

Mohamed Yosaif Abdalrahan of Sudan has worked tirelessly to defend the rights of Sudan’s religious minorities, both in his legal casework and through public advocacy.

Ivanir dos Santos of Brazil worked exhaustively to support interfaith dialogue, combat discrimination, and create mechanisms for the protection of vulnerable groups.

William and Pascale Warda of Iraq have devoted their lives to advancing religious freedom and other human rights causes in Iraq.

Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud of Cyprus has fully committed herself to working with religious leaders, faith-based organizations, and religious communities on a broad range of issues, including religious freedom. She is also one of the architects and facilitators of an unprecedented peacebuilding initiative in Cyprus known as the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the Auspices of the Embassy of Sweden based in Nicosia, Cyprus.

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